THE PSNI has said it will not change its policy of sharing data about migrant victims of crime with the Home Office.
The Detail revealed last month that the force had handed over information on at least 33 victims to Home Office Immigration Enforcement between May 2020 and May 2022.
The victims included 13 people who had suffered human trafficking, five who had endured modern slavery, two domestic abuse victims and 13 who had experienced other crimes.
However the true figure may be higher because the Home Office said it could not check email referrals.
Migrant support groups, including the Migrant Centre NI, told The Detail they were concerned that some people are too frightened to report crimes in case they face deportation.
Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton told the Policing Board yesterday that the issue of police sharing data with the Home Office is a “national” one.
A 2018 investigation by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and other oversight bodies found that victims feared that if they reported a crime their immigration information would be shared with the Home Office.
“This (fear) is something we have heard very loudly ourselves from the black and minority ethnic community in Northern Ireland, and we recognise that this is an issue for them,” ACC Singleton told the board.
“We have heard from not only the community, but also their advocacy groups, which has led them to call for a clear firewall, effectively, between the police and immigration enforcement.”
However, he said legal advice given to the PSNI stated that a firewall was neither possible, nor in victims’ interests.
Describing the issue as "complex", he said the PSNI will carry out a new equality screening of data sharing.
“We are committed to carrying out a further section 75 screening of our process and policy in this particular area,” he said.
Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon told the board that the policy had caused fear amongst migrant victims of crime.
“We are going to have serious issues, and we know that we are already having serious issues from certain communities reporting crime, because of that fear,” she said.
Ms Dillon said a 2020 Northern Ireland civil service research paper, prepared for the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Justice Committee, found that “there is no specific legal requirement” on the PSNI or other UK police forces to share information with the Home Office where a victim or witness of crime is a suspected immigration offender.
ACC Singleton said he had not seen the research paper.
“That is something that I need to see,” he said.
Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister suggested a firewall should be used, except when someone had consented for their information to be shared with the Home Office.
“I think that is something that can be communicated much more easily, especially to those groups and advocates,” she said.